NBA Finals: Which is the best matchup for the Thunder?
With the Heat and Celtics heading to a Game 7 on Saturday, how does OKC stack up?
Team versus talent?
That's the basic question you must ask when determining whether Miami or Boston is best for the Oklahoma City Thunder as its NBA Finals opponent.
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The Heat have gotten by on the extraordinary talents of two players, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- and not necessarily in that order. The Celtics, meanwhile, continue to rely on teamwork, with Boston being most effective when using its entire roster, however old or decimated by injury, to succeed.
The Thunder figures to be the favorite against either Eastern Conference heavyweight. But with the decisive Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals now set for Saturday following the Heat's 98-79 win at Boston on Thursday, the Thunder's opponent remains unclear.
THE THUNDER-HEAT REGULAR SEASON SERIES: The Thunder split the series 1-1, with both teams winning on their home courts.
GAME 1 SUNDAY, MARCH 25: The Thunder thoroughly outplayed the Heat before notching a 103-87 win inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Kevin Durant outclassed James and tilted the MVP race to his favor by scoring a game-high 28 points with eight rebounds and eight assists. Durant's defense was every bit as dominant as his all-around game, as he helped to hold James to 17 points on 8-for-18 shooting. While Durant garnered the headlines, the more significant story of the game was how the Thunder murdered Miami's defense with unselfish ball movement that allowed even its defensive-minded big men to be huge offensive threats. Serge Ibaka scored 19 points with 10 rebounds, and Kendrick Perkins added 16 points and six rebounds. The two interior anchors combined for 16-for-21 shooting and left Miami utterly mystified on how to defend the high-powered Thunder.
GAME 2 WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4: The Heat got even with a 98-93 win inside American Airlines Arena. James solidified his himself as the MVP with a dominant 34-point, seven-rebound, 10-assists, four-steal performance. Durant scored 30 points with four rebounds and three assists, but James' defense hounded him into a career-high nine turnovers. Still, the Thunder's defense held up against the Heat in their building. OKC limited Miami to 37 percent shooting and held Wade and Chris Bosh to a combined 25 points on 11-for-32 shooting.
This potential series would showcase the most intriguing Finals matchup in recent memory in Durant versus James. They're two of the best players in the league and just so happened to play the same position, which means they would match up throughout the game. It would make for riveting theater. James' teams have gotten the best of Durant's in the head-to-head meetings since 2007, with James owning a 7-2 record against Durant. In those nine games, Durant has averaged 27.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. James has averaged 26.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
Other intriguing matchups include Wade against Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook against Mario Chalmers and Ibaka against Bosh. The X-factor matchup very well could be James Harden versus Shane Battier in an offense-defense chess match that could determine how effective the Thunder is offensively. In Scott Brooks and Erik Spolestra, the coaches pacing the sidelines, we would see two of the best up-and-coming coaches in the league. Spolestra got his team to the Finals last year. Brooks has been there as a player but is a first-timer as a coach.
THREE THUNDER-HEAT STORY LINES
James versus Durant is the most compelling subplot possible in either of the Finals scenarios. The two finished one and two in MVP voting in two of the past three years, and appear to be neck and neck in the race for honor of the league's best player.
Team building 101: organic versus manufactured rosters. The Heat have become the NBA's evil empire because of how it assembled its three-headed monster of James, Wade and Bosh. Miami's three stars joined forces through free agency and created a ton of resentment for forming what's been described as a super team. The Thunder, on the other hand, built through the draft and took the slow and steady approach, turning Oklahoma City's organization into the lovable franchise that has been described by some as America's team. Both franchise have already established blueprints for team building. But the winner of this series is likely to have other franchises quickly attempting to follow suit...if they haven't already.
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